Is it possible to depict domestic violence in a fashion editorial without glamourizing it?
This is the #1 question running through my mind as I took in the grisly images pulled from the April 2014 cover spread for Vogue Italia. No stranger to controversy, the editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia (as well as Conde Nast Italia), Franca Sozzani has been applauded for tackling big issues—and criticized for doing it badly—between the pages of Vogue. What’s making people take notice is the fact that fashion isn’t typically thought of as the appropriate arena for frank discussions on race, women’s rights, environmental issues, plastic surgery, and substance abuse. How can it be when the primary goal of fashion is commerce, and when the industry itself is rampant with privileged elites and out-of-touch millionaires? As much as we believe fashion is art and that at its best, it has great potential for change, there’s something really distasteful about piggybacking on the hot topic of the week for the purpose of moving subscription numbers and increasing ad revenue. Sure, fashion subsists on trends. But for the people who must live through these disturbing “trends” year after year, maybe it doesn’t feel that great to know your pain is helping rich editors and designers get richer. Perhaps it’s an especially low blow to see an itemized list of what the models who are portraying your struggle are sporting in the images, the costs of these items completely unattainable for average and below-average groups.
The thing I always found interesting about Franca Sozzani is her non-fashion academic background. Studying philosophy and Russian and German theology in university, Sozzani has been unrelenting in her push to spotlight issues of “substance” inside the world of fashion. In interviews, her passion to increase awareness and inspire debate is admirable and her motivations seem pure. But she is a product of her environment, and it’s no coincidence she’s from a country notorious for its sexism. During her interview with The Independent, I was struck by how casually she shrugged off the problematic implications of having a male photographer shoot female victims of violence. It makes me question how deeply she considered public perceptions of this editorial, or more importantly, how sensitive she is to the feelings of victims of domestic violence. She might think by having a domestic violence photo shoot take on the feel of a horror film, she’s calling attention to the horrors of real life. I would argue that by making it cinematic, it lends the images an element of cartoonish fantasy, thereby robbing it of a very necessary sense of realism. After all, it’s a lot easier to ignore the seriousness of something when there’s a perceived distance between it and reality.
Sozzani has stated that the purpose of this editorial is to bring awareness. How’s that for useless? Domestic abuse exists, guys. I doubt you can find a single doofus who isn’t aware of this fact. If she wanted to bring awareness to the horrifying statistics of how many women die each year in Italy from domestic abuse, she would have had to do more than just dress a few screaming models in Prada and fake blood. Perhaps it would have made a more positive impact if she’d donated her earnings from the April issue to a domestic abuse non-profit.
Additional research by shhrug